Saturday, 1 February 2014

The Mandalay Express (or choooo choooo bump!)

At Katha we caught a very dusty bus to Naba train station. The 12 mile journey took an hour along the bumpy twisty unpaved road. It took over thirty minutes to book two seats in first class, the last tickets for the train. The train had ten carriages and over 800 of us were packed in like sardines. We were lucky, as Naba station were only allowed to sell two first class tickets (& no other type of tickets) to 'foreigners' per train, so it was a good job we were travelling off the beaten track!

It would have been difficult to commute to work on this train. Firstly electricity was intermittent and obviously there was no internet to check your emails. The buffet car was non-existent (no latté) but this gap in the market had been taken up by many fried food entrepreneurs; fried sparrow anyone? Thirdly, it was bumpy enough to give a Grand National jockey an aching bottom!

Timetables were visionary, by that I mean just out of sight as both the station master and the ticket collector were unsure at what time we would reach our destination. When the train got really slow, passengers jumped off at a station to by a drink and then were able to rejoin it a few carriages down. When the rails got really bad, the train stopped, as if to rhetorically ask 'do I really have to continue?' 

'First class' meant you had a seat. It was a great travelling method to met folks, especially as they were literally at your feet. We were offered to share sticky rice steamed in bamboo, oranges, sunflower seeds and a beer. We responded by proffering some boiled sweets about the carriage.

Jolting into Shwebo station at 1.15am we disembarked into the cold darkness onto the wrong side of the tracks. We could see some small fires on the other side. Stepping in the direction of the platform we found ourselves standing between our departing train and an incoming train, both awkwardly stuttering forward. For a second I was a train jumper in the Great Depression.

Katha's river front and monastery

Cows seem to roam freely, its more like being in India

Tomatoes are obviously a popular dish

Nabba train station

More free, fat and happy cows wandering the tracks, it seems udderly crazy!

View from 1st class

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